Lessons Learned in the Wisconsin Recalls by Kevin Mack & Phil LaRue

By at September 3, 2011 | 8:12 pm | Print

Lessons Learned in the Wisconsin Recalls by Kevin Mack & Phil LaRue

It’s no secret: hard-hitting direct mail wins elections. Nowhere was this truer than in the recent Wisconsin recall elections. Mack/Crounse Group learned a lot in these hard-fought races. Here are some lessons you can apply in your campaign.

Hold People Accountable

Nothing sells like hypocrisy these days. When it became public that Tea Party/Republican candidate Kim Simac had outsourced the printing for her book on “patriotism” to China, our team went to work. These pieces use design, color and imagery to grab the reader’s attention.


Our philosophy is that if you are going to go negative, don’t go half way. It’s not patriotic to outsource jobs, and if you do, you deserve to be held accountable for it. Notice the short headlines and imagery that delivers our message. The reader doesn’t have to work to understand what we are trying to say. Bottom line: if you decide to go negative, don’t be shy about it. Voters who dislike negative campaigning will hold you accountable for any perceived negativity. There’s no reason to do it half way.

Simac lost the election to recall Democrat Jim Holperin in a Republicanleaning seat, and Wisconsin workers won!

Creative Messaging Matters

Elsewhere in Wisconsin, MCG used a consistent message with a clever twist to help defeat a longtime Republican incumbent.

Senator Randy Hopper was a multi-term Republican incumbent whose personal infidelity and hypocrisy on taxes made him extremely vulnerable to a recall challenge. He also provided us with plenty of opportunities for clever messaging. We attacked Hopper on his tax problems but used wording that would also remind the voters about his personal problems.

This piece used a proven technique—a “real” person with a provocative quote—to drive two key messages:  Hopper hadn’t paid state income taxes for nine years, and he should stop messing around!


This piece uses the familiar image of lipstick on the shirt collar to make its point. The back makes good use of message repetition, using the word “cheat” to again remind voters of Hopper’s personal failings. Coupled with the adage, “Cheaters Never Win,” the piece effectively communicated that Randy Hopper doesn’t represent Wisconsin values anymore and it was time to replace him.


And this piece took our number one issue—jobs—and used it as an example of why it was time for Hopper to go. Think about the irony. Hopper voted to take away public sector worker’s collective bargaining rights. He wanted to downsize the state workforce. But he and his staff worked behind the scenes to get his mistress a state job (and a nice raise). Some people would say this piece is too tough, but we disagree. It’s 100% factual and combines all three of our arguments against Hopper (infidelity, tough economy and hypocrisy on state jobs).

Hopper lost his election, and Democrats now hold this seat for the first time in 75 years.


When you design your direct mail, use short headlines to deliver your message. Use imagery that reinforces your message. And don’t be afraid to go negative if that’s what it takes to win.

Kevin Mack, Partner, Mark Crounse Group and Phil La Rue, Senior Political Writer.   MCG understands that political communication is not about candidates, consultants, pundits or blogs. It’s about connecting with real people who lead real lives and don’t spend much time thinking about politics. When developing a plan for our clients, we embrace a collaborative approach, working as a team to devise sound strategy and creative concepts that can be brought to life with eye-catching design.

Mack|Crounse Group           2001 N. Beauregard St. Suite 420              Alexandria, VA 22311        703.341.4440                       www.mackcrounse.com                    info@mackcrounse.com


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